RESNA 27th International Annual Confence

Technology & Disability: Research, Design, Practice & Policy

June 18 to June 22, 2004
Orlando, Florida

Technology and Visual Impairment: Primary Market Research, Current Practice, and Needed Technology

Wendy Strobel, MS, CRC, ATP, Stephen Bauer, Ph.D., Jennifer Fossa, BS
RERC on Technology Transfer, University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14214



The Technology Transfer RERC (T 2 RERC) Demand-Pull project focuses on the transfer of emerging technology solutions to the marketplace for people with disabilities. The 2003-2004 Demand- Pull project on technology for people with visual impairments has collected information on the market needs, the current status of AT, and the technology that is essential to meet the current and future needs of people with visual impairment. This paper will present the most relevant findings from the Industry Profile on Visual Impairment, the Stakeholders Forum on Visual Impairment, and the problem statements that resulted from these activities. Problem statements call for development of needed technology in four areas: access to textual information, access to graphical information, access to consumer electronics, and way finding technologies.


Technology transfer, visual impairment, assistive technology


Visual impairment has many implications for the 8.6 million Americans who report having the disability (1). Assistive technology (AT) is often needed to enable people with visual impairments to complete many tasks associated with school, work, and community living. Americans with disabilities have a growing opportunity to benefit from recent developments in AT. It is the responsibility of the T 2 RERC to identify innovative technologies for people with disabilities and to introduce those technologies to the marketplace. In order to complete this task, the T 2 RERC has compiled information on the current state of visual impairment and related technology. Information on needed technology in the field of visual impairment, gathered from leaders in the field, is also included.

Market research indicates that loss of vision affects 50,000 new people in the United States each year (2). By the year 2030, it is expected that 14.8 million Americans who are 65 and older will have some form of visual impairment (3). Estimates of the economic impact of blindness in the United States are numbered at $38.4 billion; $22.3 billion in direct costs and $16.1 billion in indirect costs (2). The leading causes of visual impairment include: Glaucoma, Macular Degeneration, Optic Nerve Atrophy, Diabetic Retinopathy, and Retinitis Pigmentosa.

There are many aspects of service provision in the delivery of AT services for people with visual impairment. First and foremost, an evaluation of the needs of the person with a visual impairment must be completed, preferably in the person's customary environment. Secondly, training must also be provided to ensure that the person will benefit from the introduction of the device(s). Thirdly, the person with a visual impairment, or failing that the care provider or service provider must be familiar with the legislation that is relevant to obtaining technology. Current public policy often fails to sufficiently address the funding of assistive technology (4). Therefore, the complicated funding system associated with obtaining AT must be negotiated. Finally, it is imperative that the person with a visual impairment be familiar with the wide range of AT available to address his/her needs in the community.

Currently available technologies assist people in completing tasks associated with activities of daily living, computer access, access to graphics, and way finding. Most are relatively well known to people in the field of assistive technology. They include magnification devices; telescopic devices; large print, talking, and tactile devices; computer software accommodations such as screen magnification and enlargement programs; scanning and optical character recognition; braille printers; and navigational aids. Despite the broad range of technologies, innovative devices have been slow to reach the consumer market.


The objective of this project is to identify the most pressing assistive technology needs of people with visual impairments. These needs are transformed into problem statements that describe the needed technology and the essential characteristics of that technology from a technical perspective. Problem statements serve as guidelines for technology developers who will create the future assistive technology solutions for people with visual impairments.


The Demand Pull Project on Visual Impairment began with the identification of consumer needs using consumer panels, interviews with manufacturers and researchers, and the development of a comprehensive industry profile. The consumer panels allow the T 2 RERC to tap into the personal knowledge and experience of people with visual impairments. Information is collected on the activities and environments where AT needs occur; and the technologies used to meet these needs. Experts such as manufacturers and researchers typically have a broader but sometimes less personal knowledge of these issues but a deeper understanding of markets and technology. This information is used in combination with the Industry Profile on Visual Impairment to identify high priority AT needs for further study at the Stakeholders Forum on Visual Impairment. The Stakeholders Forum on Visual Impairment was held in San Francisco and conducted in conjunction with the Smith-Kettlewell RERC for Blindness and Low Vision.

The Stakeholder Forum is convened to validate market needs and establish “requirements” for technology solutions. The Stakeholders Forum on Visual Impairment brought the leading experts in the field of visual impairment together to gather primary market data on the technology needs of people with visual impairments. Experts included technology users, developers, researchers, and manufacturers from across the United States. Together these experts identified a number of technology problem statements to guide the work of the T 2 RERC in the coming years.


The following problem statements were identified as a result of the Stakeholders Forum on Vision Impairment:


Together the primary and secondary market research gives a comprehensive picture of the needs in the field of visual impairment and the available business opportunities for solutions to meet these needs.

These ideal products are explained in depth in the T 2 RERC's problem statements. Technology solutions to the defined needs of people with visual impairments are sought from technology developers or inventors via a submission form located on the T 2 RERC website at .


  1. National Center for Health Statistics. (1995). National Health Interview Survey- Disability Supplement, 1994- 1995. Retrieved January 10, 2003, from
  2. National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research. (2002). The demographics of eye and vision disorders . Retrieved February 12, 2002, from
  3. Lighthouse International (1995). The Lighthouse National Survey on Vision Loss: The experience, attitudes and knowledge of middle-aged and older Americans. New York: The Lighthouse Inc.
  4. National Council on Disability, 2000. Federal policy barriers to assistive technology. Retrieved September 24, 2003 from .

Lead Author Contact Information

Wendy Strobel, MS, CRC, ATP
University at Buffalo T 2 RERC
3435 Main St
322 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214
Phone: 716.829.3141 x140
Fax: 716.829.2420

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